Following up from our visit to the 20th annual Sculptural Object Functional Art (SOFA) + Design Fair, DRA had a chance to speak with the celebrated sculptor and designer Wendell Castle. As the demand for gallery-driven designed objects and furniture continues to grow, Castle’s singular aesthetic has remained one of the most desirable to collectors and collections for over 40 years. His pieces combine playful, free-form shapes with an expert level of skill.
But more importantly, his original technique for stack-lamination, a process of gluing layers of wood together, continues to set him apart. Castle works off the cross-section of the design to guide where to stack and shape the wood to complete the furniture. And his process continues to incorporate new technology as well: the most recent addition to the studio is a 6-axis robot most commonly used for industrial and automotive manufacturing.
Castle is represented by Barry Friedman Ltd., who presented two chairs from Castle’s studio at SOFA 2013. The Triad Chair, a fiberglass chair in silver leaf, was a new edition of a design produced originally in gold leaf. The newest chair was a cantilevered seat with its base off to the side, making it look like it’s levitating. Constructed of stained ash, the one-off chair encapsulated all the characteristics of a classic Wendell Castle chair: expertly executed, expressive, and surprisingly ergonomic.
Castle arrived in style, straight from his Paris exhibition with the Carpenters Workshop Gallery. Jet-lagged, but alert, Castle discussed his new work and his early influences. Read the transcript below, edited for length and clarity.
Matthew Keeshin: What were you trying to do differently with these new pieces than with past pieces?
Wendell Castle: Well, I had actually thought about it and dealt with this issue earlier, but I think I resolved it better. I’ve been very interested in defying gravity. And of course, you really can’t defy gravity, you can only sort of play around with it. But there are a number of ways you can go about that. The way I’ve been pursuing it recently is that the obvious place to put legs is exactly where I will not place them. With a chair, the legs will not be under the seat; they’ll be over to the side or in the back. The chair will balance okay because the weight is distributed on another part that hits the floor. And the vocabulary I’ve been trying to express this in, I wanted to keep simple. Although in a sense it gets complex, there is just one element, and it is an ellipsoid.
Triad Chair, 2006, Fiberglass with silver leaf, 34 x 36 x 34 inches, Seat height: 13 1/2 inches
Untitled, 2013, Stained Ash with oil finish, 31 1/4 x 41 3/4 x 34 1/4 inches
MK: Can you elaborate on that simple vocabulary?
WC: By simple, I mean this ellipsoid. The interesting thing about ellipsoids is the minute you begin to combine them or mush them into each other and see how they relate to each other in size and placement, you can do a lot of interesting things. And this little chair here does some interesting things. These objects have parts that are up off the floor. It’s the weight that makes it work and it doesn’t matter where the weight is on the floor or in the air. It functions the same, but visually, you wouldn’t know that. Things that are floating in the air; you don’t think of that as heavy.